People have asked how scientists know that today’s climate situation is unusual. Hasn’t the Earth undergone many cold and warm cycles before? Could this just be another? Buried in the world’s ice sheets is a long story of climate on Earth–and the contribution of atmospheric CO2 to warming or cooling. Scientists can access a unique and detailed look at the history of the Earth’s atmosphere through ice cores and start to understand the recent climate in context of past ones. Continue reading
NSIDC recently switched the baseline against which we analyze Arctic sea ice extent. Previously, we relied on a baseline that coincided with the beginning of the satellite period and stretched 20 years, from 1979 to 2000. The new baseline runs from 1981 to 2010, covering 30 years. Why did we make such a change?
Switching to a 30-year baseline allows us to be consistent with other climate monitoring agencies, which commonly use a 30-year time period for conducting analyses. This new baseline also helps account for the wider variations observed in Arctic sea ice extent. Continue reading
If NSIDC scientists are busy all year long conducting their own research, how do they keep up with what their colleagues elsewhere are doing? They exchange flurries of emails and phone calls, of course, and collaborate on journal articles and projects. But once a year, many of them are in the same place at the same time for the same reason: to attend the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). Whether you’re interested in glaciers or geoids, sea ice or plate tectonics, Earth or Mars, AGU is right up your alley. Each year, more than 20,000 scientists, students, and educators converge in San Francisco for the weeklong meeting. Many of NSIDC’s staff participate in the meeting as well, presenting talks and posters detailing their latest research, data, and success stories.
Collaboration and the cryosphere
The meeting turns out to be a great place to run into normally-distant colleagues and discuss your research or hatch future collaborations. Scientists and project managers from around the globe also take advantage of AGU to coordinate with each other in person, saving the time and expense of setting up a separate meeting. Town Hall meetings provide government agencies, academic programs, and special projects with a forum to gather input from AGU attendees and convey information, which helps funding agencies set their priorities. NSIDC’s booth is also a big draw at the exhibit hall, where we feature some of our most recent and popular products. Talking with hundreds of meeting attendees helps us determine what kinds of data people are looking for, and how we can help them find what they need to conduct their research.
The variety of opportunities at AGU also fosters numerous informal meetings, whether we’re mingling between talks or at events like the Cryosphere Reception. This is often where new ideas can foment that would never come up in the more formal structure of science talks or project meetings. It is also a place to discuss better ways to improve understanding of science by students and the public and to communicate the latest science news at media briefings.
Among the cryosphere sessions, Greenland’s dramatic summer melt was a hot topic, as was sea ice, the effects of atmospheric carbon, and thawing permafrost. This year’s Nye lecture, one of the cryospheric highlights of the meeting, featured Elizabeth Morris of the Scott Polar Research Institute. Her talk, “Hot ice and wondrous strange snow: three-phase mixtures or something more?” delved into the process behind the science, how researchers study things in the field and then make that information useful in broader scientific contexts. The Nye lecture is just one of several plenary lectures that touch on a variety of disciplines, such as oceans, volcanism, and atmospheres.
Something for everyone
No matter what your discipline, AGU has something for everyone. Award-winning journalist Ira Flatow, host of National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation: Science Friday” program, spoke at the AGU presidential forum. He reminded all of us why science—and communicating that science clearly—is more important than ever. And the first annual AGU Open Mic Night: Tall Tales and Earth Sonnets, hosted by cryosphere expert Richard Alley, was a stratospheric success. If you didn’t get there early enough to get a chair, it was standing-room only.
Even when science is conducted in a vacuum, it’s never really conducted in a vacuum. The energy and synergy of ideas that occurs at AGU keeps us coming back. We’ll see you next year.
AGU Video on Demand, including the Nye Lecture and the Presidential Forum featuring Ira Flatow’s talk
Readers sometimes ask us, “What are the reasons behind Arctic sea ice decline?” In summer months, ice extent has declined by more than 30 percent since the start of satellite observations in 1979. But is climate change really the culprit, or could other factors be contributing? Continue reading
In summer months, icebreaking ships head north into the Arctic Ocean, tearing through the sea ice and leaving trails of open water in their wakes. Readers occasionally write in to ask us whether the trails left by these ships contribute to the melting of sea ice. Continue reading